Gebhardt first musher into Rainy Pass checkpoint

Posted: Tuesday, March 07, 2000

RAINY PASS (AP) -- Mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race headed into the Alaska Range on Monday, with Paul Gebhardt leading the 80 teams into the Rainy Pass checkpoint under clear skies.

Gebhardt, who finished sixth last year, arrived at the remote Rainy Pass Lodge at 11:01 a.m. Alaska time (3:01 p.m. EST) with the 16 dogs he started the race with a day earlier.

''They're going good. I'm happy. They are pretty race hard,'' Gebhardt said, as he prepared freeze-dried food for the dogs as they napped on beds of straw.

Temperatures in the 30s forced mushers to slow their pace to keep from overheating their team.

''In the afternoon, if the sun's out, it's going to be really bad,'' he said of the heat while resting in Skwentna. ''You've got to be careful.''

For two hours Gebhardt, from Kasilof, had the stunning alpine views to himself, but then others started arriving. Three-time winner Jeff King of Denali Park was second into the checkpoint at 12:57 p.m., followed by Mitch Seavey of Seward at 1:16 p.m.

Defending champion Doug Swingley of Lincoln, Mont., was fourth at 2:06 p.m., about a half-hour ahead of five-time winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers and Ramy Brooks of Healy. Rick Mackey of Nenana, the 1983 Iditarod winner, arrived at 3:24 p.m.

Jerry Riley of Nenana, who won the 1976 race, and Zach Steer of Anchorage both reached Rainy Pass before 5 p.m.

Another 15 mushers were climbing the 30 miles of trail from the Finger Lakes checkpoint to Rainy Pass as of late Monday afternoon.

King said one of his dogs went the wrong way around a tree and broke its tie line. When he called the dog, it bolted past the team but soon joined up again and ran for about a mile before King was able to grab it.

Seavey said he damaged his sled when it hit something under the snow and bent the runner.

''It flipped right over. I was dragging down the trail. I was glad I didn't lose the team,'' he said. ''The sled is essentially not drivable.''

He was waiting in Rainy Pass to see if another sled could be flown to him from McGrath.

A record 81 teams took to the trail Sunday from Wasilla to officially begin the 1,150-mile race to Nome. The trail goes through Knik, home of Joe Redington Sr. who started the race in 1973 and died of cancer last June at age 82. From there it continues through muskeg and forests.

Redington's son Raymie was the 17th musher into Finger Lake. He said he lost time when he took a wrong turn out of Skwentna and went 15 miles out of his way.

''He's probably watching me mess up again,'' said Redington, thinking about his father and the eight Iditarods they did together.

The race was begun to commemorate the lifesaving relay of diphtheria serum to Nome by mushers in 1925. Swingley holds the race record of 9 days, 2 hours and 42 minutes set in 1995.

The teams, which include 29 rookies, are competing for a share of a $525,000 purse, the largest ever. The winner gets $60,000 and a new pickup truck. Prize money will be paid to the first 30 finishers.

Two mushers have already scratched from the race.

Ted English from Wasilla flipped his sled and landed hard on his back on glare ice Saturday afternoon just outside Anchorage.

The 61-year-old part-time carpenter struck his head on his sled and hurt his right leg and hip. English decided Sunday that his injuries were serious enough to force him to become the first musher to drop out.

On Monday Harry Caldwell of Knik pulled out of the race in Skwentna, saying dogs in his team were in heat and unable to continue.

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